Drama and Storytelling in Higher Education
‘My name is Becky Patterson. I am a Senior
Lecturer in Drama Education. I teaching I am going to be doing today is with the Primary
BA, first year, first session. On the course, over the three years, unless
they elect to a specialism in drama, they’ll get three sessions of all the foundation subjects,
that’s it. I think I am very cognisant of the fact that a lot of them won’t have done
any drama since they were perhaps 13/14 years old. Because of that, and because it is a
strange place and not like most other classrooms in the building, it can sometimes be unnerving.
So, the session I am doing today is an introduction into the relationship between drama and literacy,
literacy being something that is very important to primary school teachers.
This session is about how we engage in stories in other ways other than reading them. It
can be adapted for different age groups and it is a story based on a Chinese, well it
is a Chinese story called ‘The Little Princess’. I use this story to explore some of the drama
techniques that they might be able to use in primary education, and I also talk about
the idea of subjectivity in story and how they might embrace the story and make it their
own. It has a lot to do with drawing on what is
often termed latent knowledge. So it is not about assuming students or pupils don’t
know things and you’re going to fill them as empty vessels, but it is assuming that
there is a lot of stuff that they already know.
So it is about getting rid of chairs and tables and desks and it is about how we learn through
experience. Some of the best teachers I remember are those who are storytellers, so I think
one of the most important skills as a teacher is a be a storyteller and whether that means
you use personal anecdotes, either true or false or using a bit of artistic license,
because I think often when we see the human side of an individual it helps us to engage
with them. So it is about playing around with status of teaching as well. So I think that
is one important part; every teacher needs to learn to be a storyteller and needs to
contextualize whatever it is they are teaching within a story.
The more skills-based aspect of that is how you use your voice and powerful your voice
is. We have got a lot of technology in here but I don’t use an awful lot of it and I
do rely an awful lot of me as a, I suppose, a performer. It is performative in that respect.
It is voice, it’s body, it is tone and pitch and pace and all of those things. And I think
that if I am going to talk to students about those things the only way to do it really
is to demonstrate it and they are not easy. They are risk, they are high risk techniques
as a teacher and a lot of teachers find it uncomfortable to lose that kind of very distinctive
status of a teacher. The other things about story is when if we
want to help people to remember the stories, you have to create an ownership of it. So
we play around with structure and plot, if you like, in terms of chronological aspects
of story. Also about ambiguity in story, that is another thing that I am really interested
in; about you can be quite suggestive in things and go back to them as say ‘well what did
that mean to you?’ and perhaps play around with the subtext of stories as well.
I always like to, if I can, get into a teaching space before I due to teach and just have
something that can act as a lure or a hook so that when people come into the space they
immediately start to leave whatever is going on outside outside and come into the space.
The music, I think, calms the atmosphere, gives them something else to think about,
but it is also that subliminal notion that ‘something is going on around me and that
it is all connected’. Because often lessons take a while to settle in, people come in
dribs and drabs, there is register to be taken, and all of the time if there is something
to see, something to see, something to hear, something to touch, something to feel, something
to read, it can begin to pull threads together before you’ve even said anything.’